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Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann out at least three weeks

BALTIMORE — RHP Jeff Niemann, who on Friday was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain, will be missing from the Rays rotation for a minimum of three weeks, manager Joe Maddon said.

Niemann was pulled from his last start, Wednesday against the Blue Jays, after four innings because of tightness after Maddon grew concerned when the velocity on his fastball dipped to 86-87 mph. Maddon said Niemann will not begin throwing for at least a week and would need time to rehab.

"We're going to sit him down for one week, and then he'll start gradually getting back in the swing of things," Maddon said. "I'm looking at probably a minimum of three weeks before you get a good idea what's going to happen next."

Because the Rays have a day off Monday, when Niemann was scheduled to pitch, Maddon could have skipped his turn and pitched David Price on Tuesday at Cleveland. But Maddon said the Rays will start RHP Andy Sonnanstine, depending on how much he works this weekend, or make a roster move so Price and Shields are available May 16-17 against the Yankees at Tropicana Field.

RHP Alex Cobb is not a candidate to start because he was optioned to Triple-A Durham on Monday and must spend at least 10 days there. But LHP Alex Torres, 2-2 with a 1.78 ERA at Durham, is a candidate.

UPTON AWAITS FATE: The Rays expect to learn today if CF B.J. Upton will be suspended for his ninth-inning tantrum after being called out on strikes Wednesday.

Upton said he anticipates a fine and suspension after throwing his helmet and batting gloves and having to be restrained from going after plate umpire Chad Fairchild by third-base coach Tom Foley and bench coach Dave Martinez.

Perhaps in anticipation of Upton's possible suspension, the Rays recalled OF Brandon Guyer from Durham after placing Niemann on DL. But Maddon said the move was made in part to give slumping LF Sam Fuld a day off.

"It's purely based on Niemann's down. We don't need that other starter until next week," Maddon said. "So we want to be able to give (Fuld) a day off. Left-handed pitcher for them (Zach Britton). Why not bring up Brandon? It just makes sense."

SLUMPING SAM: Fuld got his first day off after watching his batting average plummet over the past seven games from .350 to .261 while he went 2-for-35.

Maddon said Fuld needed a rest, a primary reason the Rays recalled Guyer.

"I don't know if I feel like I need it, but I feel like it's a good way to recharge the batteries," Fuld said. "I might be a little mentally tired. It's been kind of a rough last week."

Fuld began the season on a tear and at one point was the American League's leading hitter. Since April 28, Fuld has hit .057, third lowest in the AL.

"Compared to slumps I've had in the past, I haven't analyzed this at all. There may be something mechanically I'm doing wrong, but I've looked at film. There's nothing really glaring that I feel like I'm doing anything different. Some of it has been bad luck. I've hit some balls pretty well at people. I'm sure I'm pressing a little bit, but I don't feel like there's a lot that's going on."

Maddon said Fuld has been hitting the ball in the air too much, which could be a sign he's tired.

"The contact is good. The eye at the plate has been good," Maddon said "It's just been in the air too much. Sometimes, that is the residue of a little bit of fatigue. Smaller guys, I always want to pay attention to them. When they put the ball in the air too much, that could be an indicator of fatigue."

Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann out at least three weeks 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 10:56pm]
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